Buckhorn, Castor and other officials warn Tampa citizens about the peak of hurricane season

Castor began her remarks by admitting she was surprised to hear in a briefing before the news conference that her congressional district - which includes parts of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Manatee counties - is the second most vulnerable district in the country when it comes to storm surge, trailing only New Orleans.

She took a shot at Congressional Republicans while talking about emergency preparedness, saying the GOP House budget is attempting to cut the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) aircraft operations based at MacDill Air Force Base by as much as 40 percent. "These are very serious issues for our community as we have in front of us choices that are being made about where we invest in the future and where we can achieve savings."

Brian Koon is Florida's new state Director of Emergency Management. In terms of evacuation, he said there was not one specific plan to tell people in the Bay area where to go if a storm is imminent. "In general, what we want to do is move inland far enough so that you're away from the impacts of the storm surge." He said his organization's general philosophy is shelter from the wind, and run from the water.
involved in getting a plan together.

Over the past decade, there have only been truly two years of serious storm activity in the Tampa Bay area occurring in the late summer/early fall. 2004 was a year for the record books, as four storms hit the state in less than seven weeks, with two of them, Frances and Jeanne, causing severe power outages in the region. Frances, which traveled across Florida on the Sunday before Labor Day that year, left parts of downtown Tampa underwater on Labor Day.

2005 brought through three serious storms in Florida (Dennis, Katrina and most seriously, Wilma), but there haven't been any hard storms hitting the state since then.

Brian LeMarre is with the National Weather Service. He brought out the city will soon observe the 90th anniversary of the one and only time Tampa took a direct hit from a hurricane - October 25, 1991.

"Not many people still here in this area were around back then, so a lot of complacency in this area." He added that if a hurricane were to make landfall in say, Tarpon Springs, "all that wind would be pushing water into Tampa Bay, old Tampa Bay, Hillsborough Bay, and that will inundate a large portion of Pinellas County along the Hillsborough and Manatees surrounding the Bay area. MacDill AFB as we know it will be underwater during a major hurricane. The bridges connecting Hillsborough County to Pinellas County will be under water during a major hurricane that comes in our direction."

Now that Larry Gispert, the former chief of emergency management with Hillsborough County is retired, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is taking it upon his shoulders to be the scolder in chief when it comes for people in Tampa Bay area to be ready to evacuate should a serious storm be headed the Cigar City's way.

"When someone hears me on TV say it's time to leave, it's time to leave," the mayor said. "Because you may die. And so folks have to understand we're not crying wolf, we're not playing games, when we say it's time to go, it's time to go. We don't care what your reasons are. We don't care if you want to protect your pets, we don't care about your goldfish, we care about you."

Buckhorn was joined by Tampa area Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor, as well as representatives from the state, FEMA and the National Weather Service.


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